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Exercises and Yoga for Diabetes

Yoga for DiabetesRenowned Ayurvedic physician Maharshi Sushruta had advised diabetics to search for a cow lost in the forest. In other words he advised diabetics to flex their limbs. Today, however, forests are fast disappearing and cows are seldom lost. But there are several other ways of doing exercise.

Yogasanas : Yogasanas (yogic postures) and pranayama (yogic breathing techniques) also have an important place in the treatment of diabetes. Several yoga experts and physicians, on numerous occasions, have proved the efficacy of yoga in bringing down the blood-sugar level.

Persons who cannot walk, jog or swim due to lack of desire (or unfavourable weather), persons who cannot undertake physical exercise because of a possibility of harming the kidneys or the heart and women who cannot spare special time for outdoor exercise can easily and safely obtain the benefits of exercise through yogasanas and pranayama. Even those persons who go for a walk or a swim in the morning can do yogasanas at some other time of the day when their stomachs are empty. Other forms of exercise and yoga can even be done on alternate days.

The following yogasanas have been proved to be beneficial to diabetics:

(1) Uddiyanbandh : Stand keeping a distance of about 12 inches between the two feet. Stoop forward and place your palms on your thighs, slightly above the knee-caps. Exhale completely. Contract the abdominal muscles so as to pull the stomach backwards, toward the spine. This will elevate the diaphragm. Hold back the breath and remain in the above posture for a while. Then gradually release the abdominal muscles and inhale. Finally, straighten the body to attain the erect posture.

Initially, perform this asana twice. Thereafter gradually increase the number of repetitions to five.

(2) Yogamudra : Sit in the ‘Padmasana (Lotus pose)’, i.e., place the right foot on the left thigh and the left foot on the right thigh. Take both the arms behind the trunk and interlock the fingers. Now slowly bend the trunk forwards in an effort to touch the ground with the nose. Remain in this posture for a while. Finally straighten the body.

Initially perform this asana two times. Later, if time permits, step by step increase the number of repetitions to five.

(3) Trikonasana (the triangle pose) : Stand keeping a distance of 24 – 30 inches between the two feet. Keep the arms stretched at the sides. Now bend forwards (and slightly leftwards) and with the left hand try to touch the left big toe. At the same time, raise the right arm vertically upwards and look at its palm. Remain in this posture for a while. Then return to the erect position. Now perform the asana in the reverse direction, i.e., try to touch the right big toe with the right hand, elevate the left arm and look towards the left palm.

Initially perform this asana two times. As experience is gained with the passage of time, step by step increase the number of repetitions to five.

(4) Dhanurasana (the bow pose) : Lie down prone on the ground. Bend the knees and with the hands, grasp the corresponding ankles. Now slowly raise the head, the chest and the legs. A beautiful arch will be formed. Hold back the breath. Remain in this posture for a while. Finally, exhaling bring the body back to the prone­lying position.

Repeat this asana two times.

(5) Pashchimottanasana (the back-stretching pose) : Sit on the ground with legs kept stretched forward. Now slowly bend the trunk forward and with the palms, try to touch (or hold) the corresponding toes. Also bend the head downwards in an effort to touch the knees with the nose. For the novices, this asana is difficult. But the final position can be achieved with practice. Hold the body in this posture for a while and then straighten the body.

Initialy perform the asana twice. With the passage of time, step by step increase the number of repetitions to five.

(6) Konasana : This asana is considered a supplement to pashchimottanasana.

Sit on the ground with the legs stretched forward. Rest the palms on the ground, on either side of the body. Now straighten the arms, lock the elbow joints, move the feet forwards and raise the straight body. In this position the entire weight of the body will be borne by palms and soles. Bend the head backwards (i.e., downwards). Maintain this posture for a while. Finally revert back to the sitting position.

Initially, perform this asana two times. As experience is gained and if time permits, increase the number of repetitions, step by step, to five.

(7) Sarvangasana : Lie down supine on the ground. Slowly raise the straight legs upwards. Gradually raise the trunk too. Support the low back with the palms. Rest the elbows on the ground. Completely straighten the body and try to keep it vertical. After attaining the final pose, keep the body steady. Maintain this posture for about a minute. Finally, remove the palms from the back and gradually bring down the trunk and legs to the ground.

Initially perform this asana for a minute. Later, as experience is gained and if time permits, the asana can be prolonged step by step, to five minutes.

(8) Matsyasana (the fish pose) : Lie down supine on the ground. Place the left foot on the right thigh and right foot on the left thigh. With the palms, grasp the corresponding foot. Now slowly raise the trunk so as to form a hollow at the back. Bend the head backwards and rest it on the ground.

Initially perform this asana for about 15 seconds. As experience is gained and if time permits, the duration can be increased, step by step, to two minutes.

(9) Shavasana (the corpse pose) : After performing the above mentioned eight asanas, Shavasana should be ,formed to rest the body all-most completely.

No other posture can yield mental and physical rest in so short a time as Shavasana can. It is no wonder that Shavasana has been acclaimed as a sure remedy for mental tension and psychosomatic disorders, which abound in the present competitive and fast life.

The asana can be divided into three stages:

Stage I (stage of muscle relaxation) : Lie down supine on the ground. Keep the arms at the sides of the body and the feet apart as per convenience. Keep the eyes closed. Relax. Let each and every muscle of the body go loose and flabby. Pay attention to the muscles of the foot. Relax them completely. Then turn by turn pay attention to the muscles of legs, thighs, the abdomen, the trunk, arms, the neck and the face and let them go completely. An onlooker should feel that there is no life in your body.

Stage II (stage of breath-control) : Now attend to the breathing process. Inhale slowly. Exhale slowly. Gradually slow down the pace of breathing as much as you can. An onlooker should feel that you are not breathing at all.

Stage III (stage of mind-control) : This is the most important stage of this asana. However, it is somewhat difficult and needs practice before it can be attained.

This stage aims at slowing down the thinking process and detaching the mind from worldly activities.

Concentrate on the breathing process. While inhaling chant ‘so’ in your mind. While exhaling chant ‘ham’ in your mind. Continue to concentrate on the breathing and to chant this mantra ‘soham’ in your mind. Initially the mind will waver and dwell in worldly matters. As soon as you realize this fact, engage the mind back to the mantra (japa). Continue doing this for 10 to 15 minutes. As experience is gained, a stage will come when the mantra will repeat itself in the mind on its own, without any conscious effort. This is the ideal stage of shavasana and termed ‘Ajapajapa’.

At the end of Shavasana, the performer experiences physical and mental rest and peace which cannot be expressed in words. Shavasana considerably brings down the blood pressure and disburdens the heart.

Note : Scientists of the Jiwaji University at Gwalior have performed controlled experiments on 180 soldiers to determine the effects of pranayama (yogic breathing techniques) on diabetes. They made the soldiers perform two forms of pranayama : ‘Ujjayi’ and ‘Bhasrika’, 30 to 45 minutes a day for three months. The results of this experiment were most encouraging. The blood-sugar and blood­cholesterol levels of all the soldiers came down considerably. These results have been published in the ‘Indian Journal of Medical Sciences’.

The procedures of Ujjayi pranayama and Bhasrika pranayama have been summarised below:

Ujjayi : Sit in the Padmasana pose. Keep the mouth shut. Fold the tongue inwards so that its lower surface comes in contact with the palate. Contract the uvula and the wall of the throat (including the glottis).

Now take a slow and very deep breath. Hold back the breath for as long as easily possible. Finally exhale slowly. Since the glottis remains half-closed, the breath while passing through it makes a peculiar sound.

During the entire process, one should feel that he is breathing through the throat and not through the nose.

With practice, the duration of Ujjayi can be gradually increased.

Bhasrika : Bhasrika is a Sanskrit word for bellows. This breathing technique is characterised by fast and forceful breaths, where the chest resembles bellows.

Sit in the Padmasana posture. Keep the mouth closed. Keep the body, neck and head erect. Breathe rapidly and forcefully ten times. Whilst breathing, contract and expand the lungs and the chest.

After the abovementioned ten rapid breaths, take a slow, deep breath. With the thumb and the index finger, clamp the nose and perform jalandhara bandh (i.e., bend the head forward and keep the chin pressed upon the uppermost part of the chest). Hold back the breath for as long as you easily can. Finally exhale slowly. This constitutes one round of Bhasrika.

After a short period of normal breathing repeat Bhasrika once more.

Initially limit the number of repetitions to three. With practice the frequency can be increased.

Special Note : When the blood-glucose concentration has soared to a very high level, it can be rapidly brought down with the help of a Hatha yoga practice called ‘Shankha-prakshalana’.

This process should be performed early in the morning with an absolutely empty stomach. This process involves specific asanas. Hence the performer should wear loose clothes.

Procedure : Take a bucketful of slightly-salted warm water. Try to keep the mind calm. Rapidly drink two glasses of saline water from the bucket and perform the following asanas, eight times each :

(1) Tadasana : Stand keeping a distance of 6 inches between the two feet. Interlocking the fingers raise both the arms above the head. Raise the heels from the ground, bend the head back and look at the palms. Stretch the body upwards as much as possible. Maintain the body in this posture for a while. Finally revert back to the starting position.

Repeat this asana eight times.

(2) Tiryaka T adasana : First assume the Tadasana pose.

Keeping the heels raised from the floor, first bend the trunk to the right and then to the left. The movement should mainly occur at the waist.

Repeat this asana eight times.

(3) Kati Chakrasana : Stand keeping a distance of about 24 inches between the two feet. Keep the arms stretched at the sides, at level with the shoulders. Now turn the trunk towards the right, place the left palm on the right shoulder and take the right arm behind the back. Finally revert back to the starting position. Next time perform the asana in the reverse order.

Repeat the asana eight times on either side.

(4) Tiryaka Bhujangasana : Lie down prone on the ground. Rest the palms on the ground near the shoulders. With the help of back muscles, raise the head and the trunk. Least weight should fall on the palms. Now turn the head and body to the right and look at the left heel. Then turn the head and the trunk to the left and look at the right heel. Finally revert back to the prone-lying position.

Repeat this asana eight times.

(5) Udar karsanasana : Squat on the floor. Keep the palms on the knees. Now take the left knee downwards, turn the trunk to the right as much as possible and look backwards towards the right side. Revert back to the original position. Next perform the asana in the reverse direction.

Repeat this asana eight times on either side.

When these five asanas are performed in the recommended order, alternate contraction and relaxation of some specific sphincter muscles of the digestive tract occur. Consequently the water drunk through the mouth rapidly moves downwards towards the anus, forcibly taking with it food and faeces.

Again drink two glasses of saline water and perform the five asanas, each eight times.

Now go to the toilet. Please do not use force to evacuate e bowels. Keep the abdominal muscles loose and relaxed. If stools are not passed within a minute, come out of the toilet.

Again drink two glasses of saline water, perform the five asanas, eight times each and go to the toilet. Never try to force out the stools.

Continue doing this, i.e., drinking 2 glasses of water, performing five asanas and going to the toilet.

Eventually stools will start coming out of the anus- initially solid and thereafter water-laden.

On continuing the whole process, finally a stage will come when only pure water passes out through the anus. This means that the whole digestive system has been emptied – a rare phenomenon. To attain this state, on an average 16 to 20 glasses of water are required.

Since this process is tiring, at the end of Shankha­prakshalana, a 45 to 60 minutes’ rest is essential. For this, perform Shavasana.

During this period all the digestive organs and especially the pancreas and the liver get real rest and are consequently rejuvenised.

One hour after Shankha-prakshalana, the person should take a moderate meal of khichri. Papad, curry or chatni should not be eaten along with the khichri. On the following day, too, the person should eat a light diet, suitable for diabetics.

During the following days, the person should continue to perform ‘Laghu Shankha-prakshalana’. In this method, the process of drinking two glasses of water and doing the five asanas is to be repeated only three times. Even this is sufficient to cause evacuation of the bowels.

Laghu Shankha-prakshalana should be performed every day for the first week and thereafter on alternate days during the second week. This regimen brings down the blood-sugar concentration drastically. Laghu Shankha-prakshalana can thereafter be performed once or twice a week.

It is desirable for persons suffering from complications of kidneys or the circulatory system, not to perform any variety of Shankha-prakshalana (or to perform it under an expert’s guidance). It is also prohibited for all those persons for whom exercises are undesirable.